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Gonorrhea Is Making a Comeback in Sweden

Apparently, Swedes between the ages of 20 and 35 suck at practicing safe sex.

by Rasmus Foltmar Elfton
06 January 2015, 3:30pm

Neisseria gonorrhoeae. Photo via Public Health Image Library

This post originally appeared on VICE Sweden

Last March, Motherboard was kind enough to warn us that gonorrhea was fast becoming an "urgent public health threat" in the US. The STI has apparently been around for so long, it's starting to get resistant to antibiotics. One year later, Europe is finally catching up.

In Sweden, where I live, gonorrhea enjoyed its heyday in the 1970s and 80s—long before most of my friends and I were even born. But then, just in time for Christmas, the local annual STI report showed that the number of gonorrhea cases in the country has doubled in the past decade. In 2014, 1,232 cases were reported.

Compared to chlamydia (which this past year infected 33,411 people) things might not sound that bad. However, back in 2006, there were only about 500 known cases of gonorrhea in Sweden, making it so rare it was barely considered a problem or even a risk. But this steady rise in infections probably means it is time to pay the revolting bacterium some attention.

Firstly, you might not even know that you have it—particularly if you're a girl. Only 50 percent of women experience symptoms. But if you do get symptoms, both ladies and gentlemen will experience a burning sensation when they pee. Your genitals might also emit a white, yellow, or green discharge.

It's not all bad news though: This year, the World Health Organization announced a new global action plan to fight the infection's resistance to antibiotics. I called up nurse Åsa Enervik at the Swedish Association for Sex Education (RFSU) to discuss all that.

VICE: How do you explain this recent rise in gonorrhea infections in Sweden?
Åsa Enervik:
This increase in gonorrhea cases isn't as remarkable as some people think. We're just bad at protecting ourselves.

What happens if the bacterium becomes entirely resistant?
We will end up in a situation where we won't be able to treat gonorrhea. Like other STIs, gonorrhea can cause further problems. For example, it can lower your chances of conceiving and lead to other infections—like bi-testicular infections for men.

So how do we prevent gonorrhea from spreading further? Do we need to talk about it more at school?
Maybe not specifically gonorrhea. It's only one of several STIs. But we obviously need to talk about condoms more. We need to think about the ways we talk about condoms and how we protect ourselves. It's all about having great sex without giving each other horrifying, crippling diseases. Use a condom, and if you've had unprotected sex, make sure you get tested so you can receive treatment as soon as possible without passing the infection on.

Do you think today's Swedish youth are sloppy when it comes to sexual health?
On the contrary, the youngest are really good with condoms, better than those who commonly get gonorrhea—those between the ages of 20 and 35. That group are particularly bad at practicing safe sex.

What is currently being done to make sure gonorrhea isn't spread further?
Here at RFSU, we do what we're good at: We talk about ways to be protected and the importance of using condoms, which is the number one way to practice safe sex. We also talk about the importance of getting tested, which people actually do. Our clinics receive high numbers of visitors. But obviously more people need to get tested. So it all comes down to talking about ways to practice safer sex.

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